Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has contempt for a swath of his fellow citizens.
If you disagree with him about gay marriage, indeed, if you merely think the federal government should continue to define marriage the traditional way while the states define it however they want, then you are a bigot. Your views deserve no political representation.
They should be ground underfoot by the five mightiest and most broad-minded people in the land, presiding from their temple of rationality and tolerance at the United States Supreme Court.
Kennedy wrote the majority decision striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. The decision declared a position that had been held by President Barack Obama until the day before yesterday as being a relic of barbarism, and set the predicate for the court — in its wisdom, nay, in its heightened state of enlightenment — to enshrine its view of marriage as the law from sea to shining sea.
The majority held that DOMA inflicts an “injury and indignity” on gay couples so severe that it denies “an essential part of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.” It is motivated by a “‘bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.’” There is, in short, nothing to be said for it or the point of view of its supporters. Period. Full stop.
Kennedy mumbles about federalism concerns, but it’s hard to argue that the federal government can’t work from its own definition of marriage. As Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center points out, it has myriad programs that require such a definition. “Under provisions of the Internal Revenue Code,” Whelan writes, “a person who is legally separated from his spouse, but not yet divorced, is treated as unmarried, as is a person whose spouse is a nonresident alien. Likewise, under the immigration laws, a marriage entered into for the purpose of gaining an immigrant’s admission will be disregarded even though that marriage remains valid under state law.”
Justice Antonin Scalia asks in his dissent, If a gay couple marries in Albany, where gay marriage is recognized, and moves to Alabama, where it is not, is the federal government supposed to defer to the law of New York or Alabama? DOMA settles the question.
In the end, Kennedy simply declares the supporters of DOMA hateful people. The members of Congress who passed the act and the president who signed it are morally no better than members of the Westboro Baptist Church who picket military funerals with their heinous “God hates fags” signs. Bill Clinton, apparently, despised gays. So did 342 members of the House and 85 senators.
Bill Clinton now wishes he hadn’t signed it. Like so many others, he changed his mind on the issue. Fine. There is nothing to stop Congress from overturning what Bill Clinton considers his mistakes. It did it with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It could have done the same thing — eventually — with DOMA.
But Justice Kennedy and his colleagues don’t want to wait for the democratic process to play itself out, not when they have such immense power to do whatever the hell they want.
Properly understood, the court’s role here is minimal, and the decision could have been rendered in a sentence. To wit, as Scalia wrote, “It is enough to say that the Constitution neither requires nor forbids our society to approve of same-sex marriage, much as it neither requires nor forbids us to approve of no-fault divorce, polygamy, or the consumption of alcohol.”
The court stipulated that it still permits the states, if not Congress and the president, to debate and decide the issue themselves. This is a false assurance, though. Once the high court has declared that the traditional definition is a product of irrational animus, over time it won’t be allowed to stand anywhere.
It is Anthony Kennedy’s country. We only live in it.